by Dr. Ajanta Dutt
Public life in India doe not fail to shock at regular intervals with prominent, non-judicial happenings. It seems that the police and the courts are totally in the thrall of a greasy corrupt syndicate wielding money power. Leaders of village Panchayats or those up the political ladder seem intent on upholding patriarchy that should have died after the colonial era; but it keeps raising its ugly head like a hydra. Freedom and liberty are exercised by those who think they can get away with rape and murder. Whether it is in the country’s capital, in the snowy hills of our borderlands, or most recently in the Hindi-Hindu heartlands of the north, women are targets and victims of the unholy desires of men. And these men work in gangs and groups as seen in the Nirbhaya atrocities, the Kathua devilish killing within temple grounds and most recently in the gruesome actions in the lonely fields outside Hathras village.
One learns that Hathras was the railway junction where Swami Vivekananda once took shelter for a night and left the next day ( after partaking of alms), with the assistant station master as his disciple. In the present, while another religious man rules the state, a 19 year old girl has been raped and killed, and her family locked down into fear. Although a retired judge thinks that sexual violence can be related to economic insolvency, why the men who commit a heinous crime should find any kind of protection from the police or other officials is a matter of intense bewilderment. It seems that after deciding that a religious building did not get destroyed by human hands, we are hurriedly retracing our steps towards the teachings of the respected Manusmriti, reaffirming that women should be kept down.
These four rapists—upper-caste men—probably with no dearth of money are dastardly cowards who did not act alone. Although they have problems in associating with certain sections of society, the rules prohibiting physical contact do not apply when it comes to raping or torturing. These men needed safety in numbers, in a nefarious kind of male bonding. Similarly, the men on Nirbhaya’s moving bus also did not act alone but enjoyed a ghoulish togetherness. Despite the fact that they did swing in February 2020, the punishment has not been a deterrent in our society. Groups of men still feel they can get together and hunt for prey in lonely wheat fields. After all, some will say that families should educate their girls properly to avoid such dangers.
Why blame the girl? She was out working with her mother because she was already terrified of these chauvinistic men who had made it a problem for her to step out alone. She was dragged away and her tongue lacerated… yet her silent screams still echo. Apparently her mother who was hard of hearing never anticipated the disguised footsteps of her daughter’s murderers. By the time she found her…it was late. Can this mother ever forget her guilt for not being able to save her child?
The SIT and CBI and other judicial machinery have finally been called out to probe the case and hopefully, they will take an honest path. But it is too late now to clamp down on the rogue policemen who supported the crime by delaying the FIR. It is too late to cancel the meeting that the Panchayat called to prevent journalists, members of the Opposition or furious masses from coming into Hathras to interview or condole with the family. It is too late, despite a suspension notice to an administrator, to stop his order for cremating the body in the dead of night for it destroys the evidence. It was already too many days too late when they brought her to Safdarjung Hospital for treatment. It is not too late, however, for us to wonder why the powerful few are rushing to help the criminals rather than offering speedy help and sustenance to the tortured ones. There are more than four criminals in the Hathras case and all these men are from women born, so their mothers too must weep to see the sons they have produced.
Already one mother has claimed that her son was at his workplace when the rape happened; another criminal is a family man with two children. Such mothers and wives are to be pitied indeed. An explanation being floated now is that there was age-old family enmity, as though that makes rape acceptable as an instrument for revenge. Similarly, a contradiction on whether the family gave consent does not even impinge on what the police know—that hurried cremation destroys evidence, just as a late medical report will not reveal the presence of bodily fluids in rape.
Promising 25 lakhs in rupees, a government job for a family member and a ‘pucca kothi’ does not mitigate the monstrous work of the criminals. It needed a Union Minister to speak as a “Didi” from her hospital room about tarnishing the party’s image before some action is taken in this terrible crime. The rapists will hang—perhaps—but the wheels of justice churn so slowly that another 10 years may pass before we see the end of this case. If it were not for public outrage spilling into the streets and into the channels of social media, this incident could have sunk into oblivion like so many others. Crimes like this are surging, with cover-ups and even denials of rape because men are macho men, and they will make manly “mistakes!” And then there will be a black coated lawyer giving television interviews, asking why a girl was out at 8 p.m. in the evening. He might even affirm how he would personally kill a girl from his own household if she was up to such aberrations of rule.
India shifts between narratives and counter-narratives—a good place to bury the truth. Another story does the rounds of the imprisoned upper-caste men being friends of the beaten-up woman who is now recast as a victim of honour killing. The caste and class conflict needs a quick-fix erasure through surreal stories of knights in shining armour who are thus also targets of villainy. The latest scripting of this plot could make for a lucrative television serial, despite its macabre ending. Surely all people cannot be fooled all the time. Yet our Lady of Justice who stands in the highest courts has allowed her scales to fall with a clang or have they been wrenched out of her hands? She wears her tight blindfold to deny what she dare not see and hear. Individual rights are re-righted, as common people wonder how to hold candlelight vigils and protest gatherings when public spaces are taken away from them. They must soon retire to designated areas where voices can be more easily muffled.
The time has come for the media and the journalists to leave the political see-saw and think whether they are going to report straight–or for sensation. It is time to stop rushing after a tearful film star who boards a plane with high security because her Mumbai office has been battered. It is also time for the smoke from chillum-parties to clear and instead show support to a girl who also had dreams that were shattered before time. Actors must come out of their ivory towers and see if they can be the real-life heroes who speak up on the streets and gullies of India, to bring social justice to the victims beyond the celluloid screen. Finally, the man that shouts himself hoarse about what the Nation wants to know, should find out what the Nation actually wants to know.
This society has rapidly disintegrated in terms of moral and ethical values while macho-patriarchy has become the religion of the day. Our limited gaze is turned to the Bihar-Bengal polls while every branch of governance, law, and order fails its people. Those who protect the criminals do so thinking that their own positions might be at stake. It is time to name them all. Capital punishment, especially after they have languished in prison, is too good for these rapists. Let there be social justice – justice from the voice of the people. Men and women who uphold the rights of feminism and femininity must rise in protest against those who have turned Hathras into “Haadsa-raj” where an unforeseen incident could have been prevented.
About the Author:
Dr. Ajanta Dutt is an Assistant professor of English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University and has a doctorate from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA. She writes on Indian English literature and Shakespearean Studies. She has also translated songs from Tagore’s writings and her book on The Home and the World was a text in Delhi University for many years.